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Critical Junctures – The Future of the North

by Nick Childs, Ferdinand Alexander Gehringer, James Hackett, Fenella McGerty

Latest development in the Baltic Sea Region

The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO brings new strategic implications and defense opportunities for the Baltic Sea region. At the same time, it poses additional challenges for the alliance in light of Russian ambitions in the region. As NATO develops agile defense strategies, cooperation between the Baltic and Nordic states becomes even more crucial.

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The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has fundamentally changed the European security architecture. In particular, the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO represents a decisive shift, providing the alliance with a northern front that brings both opportunities and challenges. 

Strategically, this accession offers new possibilities for military planning. The membership of Finland and Sweden enhances the defense potential for the Baltic States and reduces potential vulnerabilities. However, the Baltic Sea region remains a focal point for Russian ambitions. Russian anti-access/area denial capabilities and hybrid warfare necessitate NATO's continual readiness. 

NATO is increasingly called upon to demonstrate flexibility and agility in continuous and multi-layered conflicts. This environment requires a shift towards more agile and 'minilateralist' defense arrangements, which could prove increasingly valuable and relevant in the Baltic Sea region. There is a growing need to harmonize policies and strategies among the Baltic and Nordic states as well as within broader frameworks. Regional groupings such as the Joint Expeditionary Force and the Northern Group could serve as effective platforms to promote these new defense approaches. They underscore the importance of enhancing regional cooperation and aligning policy frameworks to ensure unified responses to shared security threats. 

The reassessment of defense readiness has also highlighted deficiencies in operational readiness and the need to reconsider force structures, including considerations for attrition in high-intensity conflicts. Countries are currently exploring options such as reintroducing conscription and adopting new, more affordable technologies. They are also focusing on industrial sustainability and protecting critical infrastructure in light of growing dependencies on cyber and energy infrastructures. The Baltic and Nordic regions, with their defense expenditures and comprehensive security models, serve as potential examples for NATO and other allies aiming to enhance resilience and readiness in the face of evolving threats. 

Regarding capabilities, the Baltic States are increasing their NATO presence and conducting more complex deterrence exercises. Finland is enhancing its defense with advanced F-35A combat aircraft and expanding its naval capabilities. Sweden is focusing on improving its air and submarine forces and aiming to increase defense spending. ISR capabilities and integrated air defense are critical priorities influenced by recent conflicts. Additionally, joint procurement and operational integration efforts are advancing to strengthen regional defense coherence. 

The strategic changes in the North mark a pivotal turning point as they navigate geopolitical tensions and rapid technological changes. Regional states are aligning their defense strategies and bridging previous disparities by leveraging the recent NATO enlargement. Effectively managing these dynamics is crucial for maintaining stability in this increasingly critical region. 


Read the monitor "Critical Junctures – The Future of the North" here as a PDF. 

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Ferdinand Alexander Gehringer

Ferdinand Alexander Gehringer

Homeland and cyber security +49 30 26996 3709


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